Training Phase 3: 100 Miles

As you might know, my coach Dr Doug Graham and I set up a 36 week training plan to prepare for my first 100 mile run. We broke it into 4 nine week phases and recently I finished up Phase 3. This was a very busy phase with a lot of big milestones and also one not without obstacles. In essence, as Doug put it, this phase was about “finding the space to do those fast miles, working on speed, [and] pushing to and beyond limits… If [I] can force [myself] to grow now, 100 miles will get ever so much shorter on the day.” During this phase I hit 50 miles a week and continued my deadlifts. I backed off on my squats and did yoga religiously the first half of the phase. The second half just got too crazy and I’m hoping to get back to that in Phase 4. PS. Read Phase 1 here and Phase 2 here.

As a part of my training, I thought it would be a good idea to attend and volunteer at a 100 mile race as I never have worked one before. I thought it would be a great way to see what to do and what not to do, and get a sense for what a race this magnitude is like. So I decided to sign up with my buddy AJ (you may remember him – he paced me during my recent 50 miler) to work the Habanero Hundred. As the name suggests, this race is HOT. It is in Catspring,Texas and starts at NOON on a Saturday in AUGUST. I think I heard the real feel was 118 that day. My shift began at 3am the following morning and lasted until 11am. 

Long story short, after watching folks out there in the blistering heat, persevering and pushing forward despite pain, setbacks, and beyond, I decided that barring “reasonable training and preparation,” a 100 miler is 100% mental. Here are my notes immediately following my return home from Habanero.

I don’t even know what to say about the weekend. It was the most incredible thing to watch those runners claw, scratch and fight for every mile of that race. My mind is a bit blown at the moment. I honestly don’t know how most of them were still going, especially knowing how much farther they still had to go. And these conditions…Race began at noon yesterday and real feel was 118. My biggest lesson learned I think, is that barring an injury or race day illness and assuming reasonable training/preparation, the 100 mile distance is, a large extent, all mental. There’s just absolutely no other way to explain how those folks kept going. As a volunteer, the thought of running 3 loops at the end of my shift (at 11am on Sun) sounded horrific from the heat alone, let alone the fact that my legs were tired from 20 miles I personally ran yesterday. So I can’t imagine having 3 loops left like some of those runners had – AFTER already running all night long for 80 miles without sleep in triple digit heat. I just…my brain literally cannot comprehend it.

Highlights for me were watching two women take 1st and 2nd place for the entire race, both of whom beat the previous course record (held by a male) by over 2 hours!!! Also, the guy who won the men’s and got third overall was puking his guts up and passing out at 3am at my aid station when I first arrived on scene. He was freezing cold and I wrapped him a towel I found in my car and kept watch over him for a while. We had all been abt to call it in for him but he had the hugest comeback of all time. Finished the race 9 or so hours later, like I said, taking the men’s title. Very inspiring. I will remember him forever. It is amazing the way he pushed thru.

I did learn a lot about all kinds of things… blisters, race strategies, pacers, even water bottles. I got to practice using my camp setup and gear again that I will also use in Nov & Dec (and Jan too). And I also made some great new friends and got to see some old ones. However, I think I’m more terrified than before though. I don’t know if this is good or bad.

So yeah, it was humbling to say the least and I’m still not sure my brain has grasped what running 100 miles will be like. And while I’m very excited, I am still a bit terrified. 

Another big milestone for Phase 3 was the insane triple that Doug had me do one day. In early Sep, I had a 25k race here in San Antonio. It was on a pretty tough trail – rocky and hilly (which I didn’t realize until I got out there) and I ran pretty hard. It destroyed my quads. My 100 miler is flat and so I’ve been seeking out the flats near me to train on and this was a really good workout for me despite that it was only 15.5 miles. I took 6th for the women and was happy with my performance (right around 3 hours). After the race, Doug sent an email telling me good job and that the afternoon heat would be my training partner for the 10 miler I had that afternoon. So I drove home, showered (not sure why lol), changed and rolled out for 10 more miles. It was 96 degrees and full sun. Pretty brutal. Afterwards, I came home, rolled, stretched, ate and got in bed early (I think it was like 6:45pm or something obscene). I decided to check my email and saw a note from good ole Doug saying that once the sun set, the darkness awaits me for a 5 miler. Of course Scott was at work (there was a Sat night football game), and I scrambled to find a neighbor to come stay at the house with the kids while I ran. Lynda, one of my run partners came to the rescue and off I went again. The day’s mileage totaled a 50k (31 miles) and it was a tough one. Each run, I left it all out there not realizing I had another run coming. It was probably the toughest 50k I’ve ever done which in my opinion, is saying a lot having done Tejas Trails’ 50k @ Bandera the last 2 years. I was really proud of myself for making it happen and dealing with the blisters, heat, and surprises. It all came together for me during that final run that night. I wrote Doug, “I see your wisdom. I got extremely valuable practice today. Practice running hard. Practice running tired. Practice running on tired legs. On hurt feet. On a stomach busy digesting food. In adverse conditions (today was heat). All things that WILL become my 100 miler.” It felt like a rite of passage. 

Next, I went to Washington state to attend Doug’s famous Health and Fitness Week. I wrote a separate blog post about that so I’ll link it here. It was an incredible experience. 

After that, I ran a self-supported 50k in the neighborhood two days after my return from Washington. I ran really well despite being so tired and sore from the retreat. I comfortably held 10:16 minute miles which blew my mind. I was so excited to perform like this when I was so worn down and exhausted! I had two weekends of shorter runs after that- but I only made it through Saturday of the following weekend before injuring my back. 

Unfortunately, I’ve had a history with my low back having a random spasm that locks it up anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. This particular time, I bent over to pick up a piece of paper off the seat of a chair and it went out. It didn’t seem that severe when it happened but it took a long time to heal and I couldn’t even run for almost an entire week! I was extremely upset and stressed. Besides not being able to train, it was so hard as a stay at home Mom of three little kids, not being able to keep up with my housework! Things just spiraled out of control and the house quickly became a disaster. As a bit of an OCD freak, this really bothers me. Additionally, I had a 50 miler coming up and I was a bit terrified to run that far. As you can read in that post, my ankle sprain from June was also bothering me and I had a big infection in my left ear and was on antibiotics. I felt a bit like a mess. 

As always, Doug had wise words to share with me. I love this so much that I saved it for future reference. “During a 100-mile run, you’ve GOT to take things in stride. The idea of an ultra is to hit a steady state and stay there, regardless. Intense emotional ups and downs drain you. Start practicing now. Doesn’t mean you don’t care.” And he also said, “You are taking on a lot. 100 miles calls for huge emotional growth. It ain’t only about the running.” I love all of what he said. He’s absolutely right. 

While it was tough to finish out the phase with these kinds of issues going on, it still was a phenomenal phase with a lot of growth both physically and emotionally. And phase 4 kicked off nicely with my winning 50 miler that I mentioned above. 

I’m now in the final and fourth phase, working on the last big push before taper time. I have a 50km the week after next where I’ll run one third-ish of the actual course. I’ll have to update you guys how it goes! In the meantime, I’ll take all of your prayers, thoughts and good vibes for health and wellness as I near the big day! 😉 Thank you so much!

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